Dave Wilton of posts a delightful video by Ari Hoptman about one of the great discoveries in historical linguistics. Disclaimer: I have a copy of Braune’s Gotische Grammatik within arm’s reach and I have spent considerable time dusting off and reading copies of the Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung, so some of the jokes may be funnier to me than they are to you. But remember, the more you know about the rules of early Germanic prosody, the more rewarding life can be!


  1. Trond Engen says

    Thank you. And to Dave Wilton. And to Ari Hoptman.
    The series of stops baffled Schlegels and Bopps
    to the point where they run out of brains,
    Till Grimm came along and the Germanic tongue
    was portrayed as a beauty in chains.
    But his beautiful law had a hideous flaw
    and the details were left in a mess.
    Then Verner came by with his magical eye
    and could tell they were victims of stress.

    Ok, unfair to Schlegel and Bopp, I know.

  2. Brilliant.

  3. I don’t like this having only 2 comments. It was funny as well as being enlightening for us non-linguists. I wonder if this Bopp is related to the other, Hale Bopp (Thos Bopp) of a couple of years ago. Okay, it was 1996-97. And then there’s Bopp Johannsen, my daughter’s imaginary friend.

  4. Where do I get the Sanskrit in Four Hours a Day course?
    (And something for Russian and Arabic too, perhaps.)

  5. Trond Engen says

    And then there’s Bopp Johannsen, my daughter’s imaginary friend.
    That‘s some imaginary friend!

  6. marie-lucie says

    If you click on “discoveries” above you get access not just tp the three videos on Verner’s law,but also to a list of others on various linguistic topics. Thank you, LH!

  7. Thanks for that link, Trond. You have cleared up an old mystery. She must have heard his name on the radio, or something. She was only two or three.

  8. David Marjanović says

    ↑ Best spambot ever.

  9. David Marjanović says

    Finally watched the videos. Rolling on the floor.
    And I had no idea of the exceptions to Verner’s Law…

  10. Trond Engen says

    Does anyone care for the poet who had his work topped by a bot?

  11. marie-lucie says

    It seems that the “exceptions to Verner’s law” are not real exceptions but continuations of the same law: changes in consonants based on their position relative to stress.

  12. A delightful video! Just one little quibble: the “exceptions” to Verner’s law in Gothic strong verbs have been argued not to be exceptions at all. Rather, it has been claimed that these ‘exceptions’ are due to morphological levelling, whereby one of the two consonants within the paradigm was generalized. One of the consequences of Verner’s law, after all, was that once inherited free stress was replaced with root-initial stress, Proto-Germanic/Early Germanic languages ended up with a considerable amount of (synchronically unmotivated) allomorphy, which various individual Germanic languages reduced. Thus, the Indo-European (thematic) nominative singular -*os ending split into two allomorphs, -*as and -*az, in Proto-Germanic: Old Norse generalized the latter (attested as final -r) and the other Germanic languages the former.

  13. marie-lucie says

    Merci, Etienne, I think I watched the video too fast and missed the detail of the “exceptions”, which are re(-)formations.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Oh. Morphological leveling makes sense. It even provides an explanation for why some German verbs that have silent h in the standard have |g| in my dialect…

  15. David Marjanović says

    …though that would imply that some verbs have been leveled and others not. I’ll try to cough up some examples tomorrow^H^H^H^H later today.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Well, actually, I’m to tired to seriously think them through (I’d have to do some of what Wikipedia calls “original research” here). Is anyone interested? 🙂

  17. I’ve used this video in my undergrad historical linguistics course for a couple of semesters. Since I had the same complaint as Etienne (plus I didn’t want to confuse my students with Gothic verbs), I made an edited version of the video which omits that bit ( ).

  18. Trond Engen says

    (I’d have to do some of what Wikipedia calls “original research” here). Is anyone interested?
    Is it too late for a “yes, please”?

  19. David Marjanović says

    So… let’s start with Standard German “see” and “pull”:
    sehen ([ˈseːn̩]… in the north of course with [z])
    present: ich sehe, du siehst, er sieht, wir sehen, ihr seht, sie sehen
    past: ich sah, du sahst… sie sahen
    “past subjunctive” (Konjunktiv II): ich sähe, du säh… würdest sehen… sähst, …sie sähen
    past participle: gesehen
    Silent h throughout.
    ziehen ([ˈt͡siːn̩)
    ich ziehe, du ziehst… sie ziehen
    ich zog, du zogst… sie zogen
    ich zöge, du zögst… sie zögen
    Silent h restricted to the present, with /g/ featuring instead in the past (and the conjunctive derived from it by umlaut).
    Then the dialect… there’s no orthography, and several basic assumptions of the Standard German one would fail, so I’ll try a loosely phonemic IPA one… also, the past tense is extinct, so it’s missing below, and I’ll skip the personal pronouns because they do complicated things at times and don’t matter here anyway.
    [siɐ̯x], [siɐ̯xst], [siɐ̯xt], [sɛŋ], [sɛgt͡s], [sɛŋ]
    [ˈsɛɐd], [ˈsɛɐdst], [ˈsɛɐd], [ˈsɛɐdn̩], [ˈsɛɐt͡s], [ˈsɛɐdn̩]
    [ŋ] comes from [gŋ̩] which comes from /gn̩/ which comes from -gen. So, /g/ in the infinitive and the past participle. Present: /x/ in the singular*, /g/ in the plural; but some closely related dialects have /g/ throughout. Subjunctive: nothing whatsoever, just a vowel cluster with a syllable boundary through it.
    [t͡siɐ̯g], [t͡siɐ̯gst], [t͡siɐ̯gt], [t͡siɐ̯ŋ], [t͡siɐ̯gt͡s], [t͡siɐ̯ŋ]
    [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐd], [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐdst], [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐd], [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐdn̩], [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐt͡s], [ˈt͡siɐ̯gɐdn̩]
    /g/ throughout, without exception.
    * So the silent h is etymological in this word, and the connection between English see and sight suddenly becomes obvious.

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